Grand Kingdom Review – It’s The Mercenary’s Life for Me

Spike Chunsoft and MonoChro have gotten together to give gamers a very unique experience with Grand Kingdom. While I find it difficult to say that Grand Kingdom is 100% great for everyone, I do think that it fits into a certain niche that could leave you very pleased with the game, though – myself included. Honestly, I had a blast with the game and believe that the gameplay alone is worth a try, but there are some parts in the game that hurt it overall and keep it from being something truly spectacular.

Grand Kingdom
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Monochro, Spike Chunsoft
Platform: PlayStation 4, PS Vita
Release Date: November 19th, 2015
Players: 1
Price: $30.00 (Review Copy Purchased)

The gameplay is the biggest draw for the game, with the presentation and moment-to-moment gameplay both feeling quite fun. You’ll be in charge of a four-man team on the battlefield and command them in a turn-based RPG style battle system. However, while the game is certainly turn-based, the combat isn’t as simple as choosing an attack and a target.

Instead, Grand Kingdom draws from several other series to put together it’s unique combat system. The gameplay feels like it draws most from games like Valkyrie Profile and other pseudo-action RPGs. While the characters (and enemies) on the field take turns acting, the actions themselves are interactive and action-foused.

During any given unit’s turn, you can move them, attack, use skills, magic, or items, defend, and do similar typical RPG actions. The battlefield itself happens on three lanes, and you’ll be juggling actions with positioning. Many attacks have areas of effect, and with friendly fire able to cause some serious damage, positioning and strategy both play a big role in combat.

Fighting itself can be done in two modes for the most part – a simple mode allows you to program a combo of attacks and perform them in that order every time, and a more complex style that allows you to have several attacks mapped to your controller and use them as you see fit.

With multiple classes of characters available, you’ll be left to choose which style fits you best for each character. Some classes, like witches, are locked into the second style, while other classes perform better in the first style until you have more actions available to you and get used to the game. Each class has different skills available, and building your party is one of the most fun parts of the game.

Recruiting characters is a bit random. After going into the recruitment menu, you’ll be greeted with a bunch of recruitable mercenaries with randomized stats and classes. In addition, the available recruits only change after performing certain actions (which, admittedly, are pretty easy and not time consuming) so it’s not as simple as just leaving and re-entering the menu. As you progress through the game, the recruits available will get stronger – but they will always start at level 1, requiring some babying when they first join the squad. Leveling is altogether pretty easy, though, which makes this never really a problem, just a grind.

Any time you take a Quest (or join an online war – we’ll get to that) you’ll be placed on a gameboard style map. Your troop is represented by a ‘field piece’ that looks very similar to a chess piece – which is also customizable. Every movement on the map takes a turn, as does a full turn in combat, and turns are often limited per quest.

While the turn limit is only rarely something you will truly fight against throughout the game, it does keep you on track during Quests. With all kinds of fun (or detrimental) events, hazards, and locations on the map as you explore, the board game portion of Grand Kingdom feels genuine as opposed to tacked on. You’ll also find yourself tracking down hidden treasure troves and crafting materials on the map, which reward exploration at the cost of turns.

The online War portion of the game is a big draw, as it has players competing over land for one of the four great nations – Landerth, Fiel, Valkyr, or Magion. Map exploration and freedom in that regard is sacrificed in favor of the whole map being a single battlefield with battlements and strategic points to focus on. Each side in a given battle focuses on expanding their control by attacking enemy encampments and castles. While you can make a squad and send them out with specific orders, letting them act as NPCs during a battle.

The real fun begins when you take control of your squads yourself, riding out to battle. Your squad will travel around the map as normal, but there will be tons of enemies travelling the map constantly as well – which you’ll have to battle if you cross their path. You’ll also be set for longer battles if you move up to an enemy base, or a long line of defensive battles if you choose to defend your own bases. The battle is acted out in real time, and gives you the feel of an ever-changing battle landscape.

Grand Kingdom has a lot of details going for it as well.

The art style is distinct and likable, with some really great character designs and sprite work. Animations during combat felt a lot like older games that really thrive on work with 2D sprites, and is reminiscent of a Vanillaware game in some respects. The amount of content to play through is expansive, and you’ll be sure to find plenty to do over the course of the game – and that’s just expanded upon by the Wars online.

Unfortunately, even with all of these great and unique ideas, the game is also rife with detriments. While the sheer amount of content to play is definitely there, the game doesn’t feel like it offers all that much. While gameplay is fun, it does get repetitive entirely too quickly. Some of the gameplay choices also seem to be at odds with one another. For example, War appears to be put forth as a tactical game, but the tactics portion of it falls away quickly once a battle begins.

The game’s quality of life is also low in several places – like recruitment. While recruitment being random is fine, there are ways to circumvent the randomness, which leave the random recruitment feels cheap. Unfortunately, the ways to reset the list are time consuming and tedious – it’d be easier to simply let players create their recruits or something similar. Small quality of life dips like this are seen throughout the game.

Ultimately, I think that Grand Kingdom is a game that should definitely be played by anyone who is interested in it. It’s fun, and showcases a ton of really great ideas. I can see plenty of players loving the game to death, while easily understanding any of the criticism said against the game. However, the gameplay style is a breath of fresh air in comparison to many of the games available now, and is certainly worth a shot if you’re interested. However, I’d have trouble recommending the game to someone that isn’t interested to begin with.

Grand Kingdom was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a physical copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 8

The Good:

  • Gameplay is unique and fun
  • Artwork and style are distinct and enjoyable
  • The sprite work in the game is visually great
  • Online Was add a fun component for those interested in it

The Bad:

  • Repetitiveness is a real problem. Most battles can be won in the same four or five moves.
  • Quality of life isn’t always the best.
  • Random recruitment feels entirely unnecessary.
  • Single player story is simply uninspired.
  • Often put forth as a “tactical” RPG, the game doesn’t feel to rely on tactical play much at all.

  • Fandangle

    I bought this game a while ago and liked it a lot, but it got too autismo for me later on. I was never a fan of meta games or online play and it felt like half the game was there so I never managed to make it fully through the story. Really I got the impression that the story mode was mostly just a really really long tutorial to prepare you for online mode and you were supposed to use it to farm skill scrolls. While I agree with most of the review I busted out at this part:

    The art style is distinct and likable,
    with some really great character designs and sprite work. Animations
    during combat felt a lot like older games that really thrive on work
    with 2D sprites, and is reminiscent of a Vanillaware game in some
    respects.

    The game is a spiritual sequel to Vanillaware’s Grand Knight History and had a very similar art style and world setup. Though the gameplay was very different. They share the same director.

  • Izzy Lichi

    absolutely loved this game. this was the real best rpg that came out last year, ff15 didnt even come close.

  • alterku

    If you don’t go hardcore into the online, your enjoyment will be incredibly limited, and getting into the online portion requires so much time, and reliance on RNG that I lost interest after about ten hours.

  • Jettythesunfish

    I really loved this game. I just wish the single player campaign had more meat to it, though.

  • Ayy this game always looked pretty nice. The Vita demo was great too. I guess now would be a great time to pick it up since it’s only about $20 on Amazon. Hell, the PS4 Limited Edition is only $63 on there too.